Whether you sit down to a vegetarian meal on Thanksgiving or the traditional turkey with all the trimmings, chances are there is some guilt involved in anticipation of the feast.
Estimates abound on the typical number of calories consumed during that one meal. Numbers range from an eye-popping 2,000 to 4,000.
For example, one estimate for a Thanksgiving dinner that includes a turkey drumstick, rolls, corn, candied carrots, green beans with almonds, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie was 2,057.
Yet, it may not be Grandma’s recipes that are to blame, but the large portion sizes we’re consuming.
Several years ago, Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab analyzed cookbook recipes from the 1950s and compared them to contemporary versions. Calorie counts for five of the eight recipes tested actually dropped by almost one third when comparing Better Homes and Gardens recipes from 1956 to the 2006 edition of the “Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.”
While many of us groan at the possible calorie disaster if we overeat, many of the items that make an appearance on your Thanksgiving table can be considered nutrient-rich superfoods:
Turkey. Fresh turkey is low in fat and rich in vitamins niacin and B6. While dark meat is slightly higher in fat than the breast meat, it provides more iron. And if your budget allows, serve a fresh turkey that is free of basting juices and sodium-laden additives.
Tofu turkey. A popular option for vegetarians, this soy-based option can be a tasty and nourishing substitute for a traditional turkey.
Roasted root vegetables. A toss of roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, and beets along with a little chopped onion and herbs is bursting with nutrients and can be a healthful substitute for candied sweet potatoes dripping in fatty marshmallows and butter.
Pumpkin. The deep orange color is a tip-off that this fruit is rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C. It also provides plenty of potassium, phosphorus, and fiber. When eating pumpkin pie, keep the calories under control by eating it sans ice or whipped cream, and leaving most of the crust on the plate.
Nuts. Put out a bowl containing a variety of shelled nuts before or after dinner. Nuts are harvested in the fall and a fresh crop can be found in your store’s produce section. Pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts provide heart-healthy unsaturated fats, protein, vitamin E, potassium, L-arginine, phytosterols, and fiber.
Cranberries. Unlike most traditional Thanksgiving foods, these tart berries actually were served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Loaded with vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and fiber, they’re best served in a sauce or relish with some added sweetener. My favorite way to serve them is chopped in a food processor with a whole orange, some walnuts, and just enough sugar to taste.
And about that monstrous calorie count? By limiting your portions and cutting back on the gravy, desserts, and alcohol, you can whittle down your Thanksgiving feast to about 1,000 or less.
Christine Palumbo is a Naperville-registered dietitian nutritionist and Fellow of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics whose favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because of the foods. Follow her on Twitter @PalumboRD, Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition, or Chris